Thursday, 17 November 2016

The election of Donald Trump is a final warning for liberal Europe

Liberal Europe has had quite a few warnings now – signals that all is not well and the populous are not content. The strong performance of hard-right parties in the 2014 European Parliament elections. The near victory of the Austrian Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer in the (to be rerun) Austrian Presidential election last May. And most spectacularly the Brexit vote which was registered on 23 June. Liberal Europe should have woken up by this point, and to some extent changed course, but it has failed to do so. The election of Donald Trump as President of America last week should be seen as another, perhaps final, warning. Mainstream European politicians need to start addressing their voters’ concerns on a number of issues, particularly related to identity and immigration, or they risk oblivion. And so far, with some exceptions, they show little sign of doing so.

Donald Trump’s victory has far bigger implications than a standard American Presidential election. It was a revolutionary event. And as a conservative I tend to be suspicious of revolutionary events. During the campaign Trump appealed, fairly openly, to white identity politics. Not necessarily white nationalism, or indeed racism, but certainly to a racialized discourse. And it worked, allowing Trump to secure the Republican nomination, and then helping, or at least not preventing, his election as President. He promised to build a ‘big beautiful’ wall along America’s Southern border, to keep out Mexicans and other Hispanics, many of whom according to Trump were rapists and criminals. He pledged to deport 11 million undocumented migrants, and to remove Syrian refugees from the United States. And, for a time, he said he would ban Muslims from entering the United States.

The subtext of Trump’s commitments was probably more important than their actual content. America has been undergoing significant ethnic and cultural change. In 2014 for the first time more minority babies were born than non-Hispanic whites. For some white Americans this is clearly a source of discomfort. And Trump’s unstated promise, when you combine his commitments, is to keep ‘traditional’ (read largely white) America strong. The mistake that liberals made, and I largely include myself in this category, was to assume that the economy trumps everything. This is usually the case, but not always. And in 2016 it wasn’t the economy stupid. Brexit and Trump’s election show that for many voters issues around identity can also be decisive. During the Brexit debate the ‘Remain’ campaign enjoyed a consistent poll lead on the economy, whilst the ‘Leave’ campaign was significantly ahead on immigration. And the ‘Leave’ campaign won. Liberals have underestimated the power of issues related to identity, and for our sake this needs to stop now.

The revolution which has taken place in America could easily be replicated in Europe. And considering that Europe is more divided, unstable and threatened than America the results could well be more destructive. There is a good chance that a far-right party will either form part of the Government, or provide the head of state, for a Western or Central European country over the next year. This could happen as soon as 4 December, when the hard-right Freedom Party candidate has a decent chance of winning the Austrian Presidential election. If not Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party is currently polling strongly for the Dutch general election on 15 March 2017, though it’s exceptionally unlikely to win outright. Most significantly Marine Le Pen has a real change of being elected French President in May 2017. If Le Pen wins it would explode the Western European post-war consensus. The EU and Eurozone would be crippled, perhaps to the point of disintegration, whilst NATO would be undermined. For the first time since 1945 France and Germany could plausibly become hostile powers.

So given the severity of the crisis we potentially face what should European liberals do? Firstly we should acknowledge that the impact of immigration is more than just economic. It’s also cultural, and for better or worse can have a significant impact on the feel and sense of community of an area. As immigrants tend to be poor they are more likely to settle in less wealthy areas, so we should also recognise that the cultural impact of immigration falls disproportionately on the working class. This is why the notion that Western states are dominated by an unrepresentative liberal elite has become so potent, and was used so effectively by Trump and Brexit campaigners. The image of liberals, who benefit from the way mass migration suppresses wages in certain professions, and whose experience of immigration is primarily more exotic restaurants on the high street, is an exaggeration rather than a fantasy. And, when combined with the way a section of the liberal-intelligentsia dismisses any concerns about immigration and/or cultural change as bigotry, it’s easy to appreciate why this has caused a backlash.

European liberals should look at the election of Trump, as well as the growing popularity of the radical right in Europe, and realise that they need to change. They need to be more responsive to concerns about immigration, and acknowledge that the impact of immigration is more than just economic. And they need to pray to God that it’s not already too late, and that the tidal-wave of public anger can be assuaged before it starts undermining liberal-democracy itself. 

If you found this piece interesting you might like to follow me on Twitter @JBickertonUK. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The election of Donald Trump just torpedoed the case for Scottish independence

The election of Donald J. Trump as President of America last Tuesday was a revolutionary event. Unless he totally abandons the policies and persona that got him election, which seems unlikely, 2016 could well be remembered along with the likes of 1917, 1929 and 1989 as a transformative year in human history. The implications of having an American President who doesn’t fully conform (or at least pretend to conform) to liberal-democratic principles are vast. America is, by some margin, the most powerful liberal-democratic state in the world. She spends significantly more on defence than the other 27 NATO members combined, and much of the liberal-democratic world has become reliant to some extent on America for protection. As a result there isn’t a country on the planet that isn’t profoundly affected by political developments in America. If America sneezes the rest of the free world gets flu. And America might be about to deliver a monumental sneeze.

The implications of a Trump Presidency are so enormous that I can’t possibly hope to address them all in one article. I lack both the time and the ability to do so. As a result I want to focus on one impact of Trump’s election, which has been to severely weaken the case for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. I should confess at this point that I’m a strident unionist, for emotional as well as economic reasons. I’ve always felt that the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK was strong, if somewhat weakened by June’s Brexit vote, but now it’s become overwhelming. And primarily because of an issue what barely featured in the 2014 referendum campaign, the security of the British Isles.

The security of Western Europe is less assured than at any time since the fall of the USSR, and probably for quite some time before that. Western Europe has relied on America for defence since 1945 and, if Trump follows through on his campaign rhetoric, this can no longer be relied upon. During a New York Times interview, published on 20 July, Trump wouldn’t commit to defending NATO members who hadn’t ‘fulfilled their obligations to us’. Certainly it’s true that NATO’s European members have become dangerously complacent, with only four NATO members other than the United States spending the recommended 2% of GDP on defence (Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia). When we combine this with Trump’s personal warmth towards Russian President Putin, and other authoritarian leaders, it’s far from clear that Europe can continue to rely on American protection. As a result European states need to be able to defend themselves, and the regional order, and most are not clearly able to do so.

So what does this have to do with Scotland? Scotland at present forms part, in many ways a crucial part, of one of the only liberal-democratic European states which does have a potent military, and therefore is able to uphold the regional order. The United Kingdom. Of the states of liberal-democratic Europe the most powerful militaries are possessed by Britain and France, who are also the only states in this region to be nuclear armed. As a result by virtue of forming part of the UK Scotland is effectively protected, and is also able to play an important role in defending the liberal-democratic order across Europe. If America retreats from the defence of Europe the strain will have to be taken, initially at least, by Britain, France and to some extent Germany. And considering the serious possibility that Le Pen could win next year’s French Presidential election, France can’t be considered completely reliable.  The only plausible alternative, some form of European Union army, seems too weak and unlikely (and the risk of the EU imploding is not insubstantial). Thus the disintegration of the UK would be a disaster not just for the British Isles, but for the security of Europe as a whole.

The stakes in world politics have got dramatically higher over the past week. The first duty of any Government is the security of its people, and for the first time in an era this is seriously threatened in liberal-democratic Europe. The British union has been extremely successful from a security point of view. Britain has been kept safe from invasion and ground conflict, and therefore somewhat shielded from the butchery which has taken place on the European continent. This protection has been brought by the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish standing together as Britons, and now would be a particularly foolish moment to throw this security away.  

If you found this piece interesting you might like to follow me on Twitter @JBickertonUK.